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    Loves Error

    Deep Pivot Episode 63

    —[Dr. Kang, at this very moment, there are places on Earth that continue to live in peace without gates. Only there, on this entire planet, have more than 100 days passed without a gate opening.]

    [Is your purpose really to collect samples?]

    —[…]

    [Is it?]

    The conference room was tense with silence. Despite Hee-min’s repeated questions, the other end remained quiet.

    —[Aren’t you curious?]

    The man asked after a few seconds.

    —[How much the gate occurrence rate would decrease with each No-Named that disappears?]

    Hee-min’s face paled further, and his voice trembled as he pressed on.

    [Cease the attack. Why should this be confirmed using our country’s No-Named?]

    —[And why shouldn’t it[

    [Stop the attack right now, you bastard!]

    Bang! Unable to contain his fury, Hee-min kicked the chair in front of him. Even if the man on the other end didn’t understand Korean, Hee-min’s anger was unmistakable.

    —[Dr. Kang…]

    After a long silence, a sound like a sigh or a laugh came through.

    —[You seem to care a lot about your country’s No-Named.]

    Hee-min covered his forehead with a trembling hand and exhaled deeply.

    Since the early days of the gates, Hee-min had known Ji Seo-joon since he was a teenager. They had been like neighborhood brothers until Hee-min became the head researcher at the Awakening Center, and Seo-joon became an Esper. Over a decade had passed since then.

    [Isn’t that obvious? He’s been my colleague for over ten years!]

    Even a stray cat one meets for a few months can earn a place in one’s heart. How could he ask such a question?

    —[That’s the same for all No-Named around the world. They’re all someone’s colleague or partner]

    The calm voice answered from the other end. Hee-min closed his eyes tightly, his breath escaping through gritted teeth.

    [If you don’t stop the attack right now, I’ll make this an official diplomatic issue.]

    — [Do you think that will be a threat to us?]

    [Do you really believe that hiring unregistered Chinese Espers to attack a No-Named in another country is acceptable?]

    — [The assassins accompanying V are not affiliated with us. He hired them independently.]

    [Do you think such an excuse will hold up?]

    —[That’s not the point—]

    [Your country is formally known as an ally. We have nearly a decade of joint gate research, and countless peace agreements between our nations]

    Hee-min struggled to steady his voice, but it still trembled.

    [Do you think your country will suffer no consequences if this issue is exposed? Our Esper was attacked without cause.]

    — [Dr. Kang, have you not reported our conversations to your superiors?]

    Hee-min was speechless.

    A No-Named in Russia had gone rogue. Russia hadn’t made an official announcement, but no gates had opened for over three months in the region since then.

    It suggested a connection between No-Named and gate occurrences.

    Who can I report this to?

    How could I ever make such a report?

    How can I anticipate how the higher-ups will react?

    —[We’ll stop the operation]

    It seemed like the silence had been taken as a response. The other side came to a conclusion.

    —[This is solely an act of our generosity. We’ve spent many years working with your researchers in the joint research organization.]

    The man’s voice was heavy.

    —[Even for us, it’s not a comfortable situation]*

    ‘…’

    — [Next time, I’d rather have a more productive conversation with someone other than you.]

    Leaning on the table, Hee-min wiped the sweat off his hand and spoke.

    [Stop the operation before it’s too late.]

    — [Understood.]

    The call ended. Hee-min sank into a chair, trembling as he took off his glasses. The short call had left him drenched in sweat.


    Meanwhile, atop a mountain overlooking the chaotic gunfight at the safehouse, a foreign hiker in outdoor gear and carrying a backpack peered down through binoculars before glancing at his phone.

    Remove the dog tags.

    He frowned at the message but quickly pulled a remote from his pocket and pressed a button.

    He knocked the dirt off his hiking boots on a rock and tightened his laces before beginning his descent down the mountain. The faint hum of helicopter propellers echoed in the distance.

    ✽✽✽

    ―Requesting response.

    Yeon-woo desperately crawled on the floor. The gunshot wound in his side felt like it was searing with pain. However, within reach, his revolver, still fully loaded, lay just a bit further.

    Just a little more, just a little more. As his trembling fingertips touched the barrel of the revolver, a sudden, powerful kick to his stomach left him breathless.

    “Ugh…!”

    Yeon-woo, grabbed by the collar, was flipped onto his back. Incomprehensible words poured over his bloodied, battered face. Though he couldn’t understand the language, the menacing tone suggested it was cursing.

    Yeon-woo blinked at the man choking him and grabbed his wrist. The assailant’s right hand was disabled. Even though Yeon-woo was inexperienced, he saw a chance. As he barely held on, the man’s grip suddenly weakened.

    Cough, hack. Blood splattered onto Yeon-woo’s face as the man vomited blood. Through his blurry vision, he saw a tentacle piercing the man’s neck. The tentacle quickly withdrew, and a fountain of red gushed from the man’s neck.

    ―Requesting response.

    Yeon-woo could only gasp for breath, unable to push away the man collapsing on him.

    “This is Agnes, receiving transmission.”

    Finally, someone responded urgently to the transmission Yeon-woo had failed to answer. He saw Seo-joon’s pale face as he pulled the man off him.

    “Yeon-woo.”

    Yeon-woo grabbed his arm. Through his half-blurred vision, he could finally see Seo-joon’s face clearly. A metal dagger pierced Seo-joon’s hand, catching Yeon-woo’s eye. But he couldn’t examine it further as Seo-joon cradled his head.

    “Lieutenant, …Lieutenant.”

    As Yeon-woo mouthed the words, calling him,

    Boom―! A tremendous explosion that seemed to shake the ground enveloped them. The world flashed white before being shrouded in darkness again. Dust and fallen leaves scattered and rained down on them.

    Through Seo-joon’s arm shielding his head, Yeon-woo saw a sight he couldn’t believe through his hazy vision.

    A woman aimed an RPG-7, commonly called a bazooka, in their direction. Someone beside her attached a warhead to its end. Though his ears were numb, he couldn’t hear any sound.

    “No, no, …please.”

    Seo-joon’s desperate voice, holding him tightly, faintly reached Yeon-woo. Instinctively sensing death, Yeon-woo clung tightly to Seo-joon’s arm.

    Bang, bang, thud. Instead of the anticipated explosion, a series of odd booms erupted. Yeon-woo’s tightly shut eyes slightly opened.

    The woman who had been aiming the bazooka at them moments before collapsed powerlessly. Thud, thud. The bodies falling in succession all had half their heads blown off.

    “…”

    A strong wind blew. The sound of helicopter rotors echoed faintly as if from a great distance. Each time Yeon-woo closed and opened his only functional right eye, the scene before him changed rapidly.

    “…Are you okay?”

    “Lieutenant Ji, …is it? What is this…?”

    The voices of people intermittently pierced and receded from his ears. Yeon-woo, feeling his way down Seo-joon’s arms still holding him, brought his hand to his blurry vision.

    “Yeon-woo, right now, …it’s not the issue. Please, just Yeon-woo first…”

    Yeon-woo pulled out the dagger from Seo-joon’s hand and covered it with his own. Thud. His leaning body settled into Seo-joon’s embrace. Resting his forehead on Seo-joon’s shoulder, Yeon-woo closed his eyes. Right next to him, Jin Cheong-oh’s voice pierced his ears as if shouting directly into them.

    “Hey! …so, just hold on a little…”

    We’re alive, we are.

    Yeon-woo used all his strength to hold Seo-joon’s hand tighter.

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